Directed by: Pavan Sadineni
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Dayaa is an official adaptation of the Bengali series Taqdeer. Although I haven’t seen the original, watching Dayaa gives a feeling that adapting it was no walk in the park, with the intricately woven non-linear screenplay bringing multiple subplots and characters together. The show opens in the coastal neighborhood of Kakinada, and we are introduced to Dayaa (JD Chakravarthy) as he gets out of his van and feels the sunlight. By the end of the show, you’ll know that the shot of Dayaa looking at the sun is likely to hold a bigger meaning, in addition to being a pleasing sight to behold. Vivek Kalepu’s frames romanticise the landscape of this fishing neighbourhood with sweeping drone shots in the opening moments, as Dayaa’s trusted aide Prabha (Josh Ravi), introduces the community to his YouTube viewers and us. It’s all pretty functional until the bomb is dropped: Dayaa finds a woman’s dead body in his freezer van.
The real fun in the game begins when we learn the truth about Dayaa. The reveal results in a cracker on a sequence in the fifth episode. This ‘mass transformation’ is a trope that we have seen numerous times in the past but it only goes on to prove that such tropes exist for a reason: when done well, they explode. Dayaa gets it right and having somebody like JD Chakravarthy helps majorly because the actor’s image is now inseparable from Satya (1998), and the show cleverly tips its hat to the crime classic in the finale. Dayaa, at times, expresses its proclivity to create ‘mass’ moments, in the quintessential Telugu cinema way. The outburst of Dayaa, his dialogues warning the bad guy, or the way he takes on a group of thugs set to attack him are straight out of a mass movie and I have no complaints because Shravan Bharadwaj’s score sells the rage. The same cannot be said about the underdeveloped supporting characters. Even when major deaths happen in the seventh episode, there’s barely any impact because we don’t know these people enough.
My biggest qualm is with the fact that the show holds itself back from offering a satisfying end. Dayaa raises more questions than it answers. At times, it feels like the show is more focused on creating a foundation for the second season instead of closing the current arc. Sure, on paper, it puts an end to the two major bad guys but still, it doesn’t feel complete. The sense of mystery around Dayaa and his wife Alivelu (Eesha Rebba) is interesting but you wish the series did more than just using these elements as a teaser for the second season.
The screenplay of the show makes a choice to reveal the identity of the corpse and this naturally kicks the mystery element out of the way. Although Dayaa isn’t aware of her identity initially, we, the audience do. The challenge here is to sustain our interest despite revealing who the dead person is—an upright journalist named Kavitha (Ramya Nambeesan) — since it directly points us toward the cause of the death. As the screenplay keeps dropping plot points like the rape of a nurse, a politician who’s complicit in the sexual crime, and a larger conspiracy, it’s not a herculean task to piece the puzzle together. So naturally, it operates in a been-there-seen-than zone initially, although the writing keeps trying to render the narrative nail-biting. Like a video game, the difficulty keeps growing intense with each episode as the writing keeps throwing obstacles in Dayaa’s way one after the other. The genericness of the first few episodes can be testing at times because we clearly sense the direction the show is going in.
The non-linear screenplay, which follows no specific pattern, complements the tension and holds out intrigue to a large extent. Making us care for a character’s backstory whose fate we are already aware of is a difficult task because we all know where it all culminates, but Kavitha’s backstory, surprisingly, doesn’t come across as an impediment to the pace. It’s a character named Kabir, a mute assassin, who shines in the show. When he is introduced, his importance is not registered instantly but gradually, he becomes a menacing presence, with a nonchalance and a creepy smile. Every time he appears, we know something bad is about to happen.
I particularly liked the finale, which was a pleasant surprise as it lets us process the violence we have witnessed so far. If you notice, nothing major happens in the final episode story-wise. It gives us time to reel out of the bloodshed. Although I wish the end was more rounded and satisfying, I will wait for the second season to know more about Dayaa, Alivelu, and their violent past.